Paying Tribute

Paying Tribute

Chuck Sullivan brings together local musicians for concerts honoring artists of all genres

| Published:
Drummer Chuck Sullivan (left) and bass guitarist Ronnie Newmyer at Sullivan’s East Bethesda home, known as “the band house.” Photo by Michael Ventura.

 

Chuck Sullivan’s spacious home in East Bethesda, known as “the band house,” is a magnet of sorts for local musicians—as many as 50 may show up to rehearse for tribute concerts that he and several volunteers organize. A string section can sometimes be found practicing upstairs, while other musicians downstairs play guitars, drums and bongos available in a room covered with posters from nearly 30 tribute concerts that have been held over the years.

“It’s inspiring and a huge hang,” Sullivan, 64, says of the gatherings, at which older artists have discovered young talent and new bands have formed. “We rarely get to just talk with our fellow musicians, and it’s a real bonding experience in a party atmosphere.”

About 15 years ago, Sullivan, a drummer, and Ronnie Newmyer, a bass guitarist and longtime bandmate, co-founded BandHouse Gigs to produce concerts honoring musicians and bands from Joni Mitchell to David Bowie to the Rolling Stones. The twice-yearly shows are held at area venues such as The Fillmore in downtown Silver Spring and The Barns at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia. The next concert will be a 50th anniversary tribute to Woodstock in August at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C.

“We didn’t have a mission statement, ambition or a goal. It just sort of morphed,” Sullivan says of BandHouse Gigs. He is the business manager for the organization, which operates as a not-for-profit enterprise and puts together groups of veteran local musicians and rising young stars for the concerts. As many as 60 musicians may participate in a given show.

Sullivan, a homebuilder, and Newmyer, who runs a music production company and lives in Silver Spring, grew up in Bethesda and have played in the local band Soul Crackers since 1981. They came up with the idea for BandHouse Gigs when they were invited to perform in a 2004 tribute to guitarist Nils Lofgren, who is from Garrett Park and is a longtime member of Bruce Spring-
steen’s E Street Band. The enthusiasm of the crowd convinced Sullivan and Newmyer that there was a demand for such concerts. They created BandHouse Gigs and put on their own successful concert the next year honoring the roots rock group The Band. The organization has sold out every show since.

As BandHouse Gigs grew, the men recruited David Sless of Silver Spring to be the technical director, Daniel Schwartz of Bethesda to be production manager and Rockville’s Greg Hardin to serve as stage manager. Each show relies heavily on volunteers and, over the years, Sullivan’s wife, Susanna, daughter, Lisa, 27, and 23-year-old son Michael, also a drummer, have pitched in.

Proceeds from ticket sales cover costs, including paying the musicians and producing CDs of the live shows. The organization also donates to Hungry for Music, a nonprofit that provides musical instruments to low-income children, and Hope Line, a nonprofit initiative to help with addiction treatment.

Pulling together the area’s best musical talent for the concerts is like forming an “all-star team,” says Newmyer, 65, artist liaison for BandHouse Gigs. “The thing that really felt like magic was not just that we were doing a tribute to someone whose music we loved—it was the degree of camaraderie among the musicians,” he says.

The concerts are held in April and August and take up to four months to plan. While writing the liner notes for the CD of a show honoring singer-songwriter Steve Winwood, Sullivan became such a fan that he spent three years writing About Time: The Unsung Genius of Steve Winwood, which he self-published in 2018.

For Sullivan, playing on the same stage as younger musicians has helped ease the sting of hearing from some bar managers that patrons didn’t want to see a band like Soul Crackers, with musicians who looked like their parents.

“It’s been cool to meet a lot of young musicians and talk to them as equals. Instead of them looking at me as the old guy or me looking at them as the young person, we are just musicians,” Sullivan says. “I don’t know where else that exists, frankly. To have a 17-year-old on stage with a 70-year-old is pretty remarkable.”

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